MusicWatch Weekly: ringing out, ringing in

Year-ending classical concerts look forward as well as back

Celebrating a new year’s arrival is a perpetual affirmation of hope over experience. So it’s appropriate that some of Oregon’s end of year events represent elements we need more of in classical music: youthful vitality, widespread participation, inclusive American programming, laughter.

• Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Concert-at-Christmas showcases its entire roster of nearly 300 musicians, plus alumni spanning much of the organization’s 95-year history. Performers from seven to 80 years old, include PYP’s Wind Ensemble, Conservatory Orchestra, Young String Ensemble, and Alumni Orchestra. They’ll play a fun, affordable, family friendly program featuring Aaron Copland’s Buckaroo Holiday, Strauss’s Thunder and Lightning Polka, Rossini’s William Tell Overture, the march from John Williams’s Superman score, and more.
Wednesday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Concert at Christmas is Wednesday.

• Classical Revolution PDX’s annual Bachxing Day is, like so much of that essential community organization, insistently inclusive: any local musician, regardless of conservatory cred, is invited to propose a solo or small ensemble performance, as long as it’s — well, I can’t express the philosophy better than the organization itself: “Bachxing day is our Annual Celebration of ALL THINGS BACH. (And puns. See above.) We like J.S., but also expect to hear J.C., C.P.E., P.D.Q. and X.Y.Z – pretty much anything that has “Bach” in the name. All styles of interpretation and instrumentation are up for grabs, including historically inspired performance, molto schmaltzando, and Bach on kazoo.” The culminating number: JSB’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3.
Wednesday, Artichoke Music, 2007 SE Powell Blvd. Portland.

New Year’s Eve

• Florestan Trio has been Portland’s stalwart classical chamber ensemble since Auld Lang Syne (times long past) — more than four decades. The current stellar lineup of pianist Janet Goodman Guggenheim, violinist Carol Sindell, and cellist Hamilton Cheifetz has been together for many years and are familiar figures on Oregon classical music stages and PSU classrooms. For this New Year’s Eve concert, Friends of Chamber Music pairs the venerable threesome with another Portland classical music veteran, pianist John Strege (who was music director at Trinity Cathedral for almost as long as the Florestans have been around) and baritone Kevin Walsh in a characteristically delightful divertimento and piano trio by Haydn, John Williams’s famous theme from his score for Schindler’s List, and more, plus dessert and champagne.
Monday, The Old Church, Portland

The Florestan Trio performs in Friends of Chamber Music’s New Years Eve concert.

• As usual in recent New Year’s Eves, the Oregon Symphony plays Beethoven’s ninth and final symphony, abetted by singers from Portland State University, Oregon Repertory Singers, and Pacific Youth Choir plus vocal soloists. As is unfortunately not usual but is most welcome, the concert also includes orchestral music by 20th century African American composers better known for jazz. Best known as the father of Harlem stride piano, James P. Johnson was one of jazz’s 1920s pioneers. But starting in the 1930s, he began writing symphonic music, which was neglected by the racist white classical music establishment of his time. Eugene Symphony music director Marin Alsop (who now leads the Baltimore Symphony) recorded all of it for the first time in 1994, and the Oregon Symphony will play two of Johnson’s orchestral works: the symphonic poem Drums and the brief Victory Stride. Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s hip, fun version of Nutcracker ballet music is more than just another orchestral arrangement, featuring jazzy solos, complete reorchestration, swing rhythms, even new titles for the famous dances. It’s a sweet, sly revelation that merits hearing even if you’re surfeited with sugar plum fairies by now — an ideal combo of American and European holiday cheer.
Sunday and Monday. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Oregon Symphony plays Beethoven, Ellington, and James P. Johnson Sunday and Monday.

•  3 Leg Torso and the Krebsic Orkestar
Portland’s favorite world chamber ensemble, 3 Leg Torso and Alex Krebs’ fiery dozen-member Balkan brass band, the Krebsic Orkestar, host a tangorrific New Years Eve party. You don’t have to know how to tango, but do be ready to dance like no one’s watching. DJ’d dance party follows.
Tango Berretin, Portland

• As 2018 mercifully closes, there’s so much wrong in our country that a significant portion of the music and theater being created today seems to be responding, often with outrage, to depredations perpetrated by our ruling class. A century and a half ago, the British Empire produced a similar share of evils, and artists responded.

With its cheery tunes, silly comedy and mildly subversive themes, Gilbert & Sullivan’s breakthrough hit, H.M.S. Pinafore, which Eugene Opera is staging for New Year’s Eve, is hardly John Oliver set to jaunty tunes. But it does make a welcome antidote to midwinter blahs and a brief reprieve from today’s dead-serious political disputations. A huge London hit in 1878, Pinafore continues to enjoy frequent productions, thanks to its perennial targets (pompous jingoism, stupid militarism, male domination of female choice, classism and even sentimental theater) and irresistibly bubbly music.

Sung in English with projected supertitles, EO’s production is directed by David Gately, conducted by EO artistic director Andrew Bisantz, and features Eugene Opera favorites Jake Gardner as Sir Joseph Porter, Curt Olds as Captain Corcoran and Emily Pulley as Little Buttercup, with newcomers Benjamin Robinson and Jessica E. Jones as the lovers. Scenic designer Don Carson devised the striking sets. Enjoy the silly spectacle and the holidays, and come back refreshed and ready to get serious about today’s outrages in 2019.
Sunday afternoon and Monday night, Hult Center, Eugene.

• Airing nationally from New Year’s Day through January 4 on Oregon Public Broadcasting, Symphony for Nature: The Britt Orchestra at Crater Lake documents the summer 2016 world premiere performance of Natural History by composer and Bang on a Can co-founder Michael Gordon. A Britt Music & Arts Festival commission to mark the centennial of America’s National Park Service,  Natural History’s  performance featured the 40 members of the Britt orchestra, a 70-voice choir, 30 brass players and percussionists, and a Klamath family drum group, the Steiger Butte Singers.

Symphony for Nature Trailer 12_2017 from Owsley Brown Presents on Vimeo.

There’s plenty more music happening in Oregon between now and New Year’s Day — tell ArtsWatch readers about other shows in the comments section below. And while you’re celebrating, raise a glass — and a donation — to Oregon arts and Oregon ArtsWatch. Here’s a couple of recent videos to send you into 2019, and we’ll see you on the other side.

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